In Search of the Lost Colony of Roanoke – History Channel Documentary

I hope you’ll join me this Friday, October 18, 2019 at 10 PM for “In Search of the Lost Colony,” a documentary on the History Channel. Here’s the schedule.

Lost Colony History Channel

If you can’t see the episode on Friday, past “In Search Of” episodes are available for viewing and The Lost Colony episode will be available here too after airing. You can watch it on your computer after it airs if you don’t have access to The History Channel.

If you’d like more background, you can read my article, The Lost Colony of Roanoke: Did They Survive? – National Geographic, Archaeology, Historical Records and DNA.

A Little History

In 2007, I became involved in the search for the Lost Colony of Roanoke, a group of settlers who sailed to what is now Roanoke Island, NC in 1587 with the intention of establishing an English Colony.

Luck was not in their favor. Many elements were against them. The supply ship with their food was wrecked on the shoals during one of the notorious hurricanes that plague the North Carolina Outer Banks.

Adding even more drama, the captain of the lead ship in the voyage was supposed to transport the colonists on to the Chesapeake, but refused to do so, in essence, stranding them. Did I mention that the notorious captain just happened to be a pirate, rescued from the gallows by a man who was scheming for the colony to fail?

You might be guessing by now that there are layers upon layers of drama – and you’d be right.

The transport ships themselves were headed back to England after depositing the colonists and agreed to carry only one person from the colony with them. The colonists elected their “governor,” John White as their representative to return to England and request resupply. Somehow, somehow, the colonists, White’s daughter among them, would try to survive half a year, until about Easter 1588, when crossing the Atlantic would once again be safe. At that time in history, winter crossings were not undertaken.

However, the Spanish Armada and the war between England and Spain interfered with the resupply plan. It wasn’t until 1590 that John White was able to return, on yet another pirate ship, to attempt to resupply or rescue the colonists.

A Big Mystery

He found…nothing.

The colonists were gone – disappeared – but they left White a one-word message – Croatoan – carved into a post at their fort and “Cro” carved into a tree.

Croatoan tree

Dawn Taylor (left) and Anne Poole beside a reproduction of the carving White discovered upon his 1590 return to Roanoke Island.

Croatoan was the name of the friendly Indians who lived on Hatteras Island, just south of Roanoke Island.

Another hurricane arose, preventing White from visiting Hatteras, but their ships had sailed within sight of Hatteras on their way to Roanoke.

Were the colonists gone?

Had they survived?

Did they perish?

Or move on?

Inland perhaps?

What do we know?

What is yet to be discovered?

The Documentary

Along with others involved in the search, I filmed a segment for the History Channel in June. My portion was recorded at the Family Tree DNA lab in Houston, Texas. As you might guess, my portion involves DNA testing.

Lost Colony, Dr Connie Bormans and Roberta Estes

Here’s a sneak peek, Dr. Connie Bormans, Lab Director, at left, with me in the dark lab coat, at right, during the filming. You’ll enjoy a lovely tour of the genetics lab while walking a test through the process, assuming that portion is included in the documentary.

This is the first production of this type that I’ve been involved with. I’ve declined several other invitations because of concerns about sensationalism.

I’ve enjoyed programs on the History Channel before and hoped that they would be less inclined to fall into that trap.

The DNA Projects

Regardless, the DNA part of this story is mine to tell, and I wasn’t about to forego that opportunity.

I founded the Lost Colony DNA projects in 2007.

The Lost Colony Y DNA Project for males who carry the Lost Colony surnames AND whose families are found in early eastern North Carolina OR among the Native people is here, and the Lost Colony Family Project for those interested but aren’t male who carry the colonist surnames is here.

How Does Filming Work?

I’ve always wondered how this works, so I’m sharing with you.

It’s interesting to note that people in the episodes don’t know what the other people said or who else is involved.

In my case, I did happen to know about two other people, Anne Poole, Director of the Lost Colony Research Group and Andy Gabriel-Powell. The three of us along with Dawn Taylor and others have worked on solving the mystery together for a dozen years now, focused on archaeological excavations in various locations on the Outer Banks along with historical records in the US, England, Spain and Portugal.

Lost colony dna

Anne and I sifting during one of the digs.

Andy, the former mayor of historic Bideford, England, home of Richard Grenville, authored the book Richard Grenville and the Lost Colony of Roanoke which you can view, here.

I know the production crew interviewed other people as well, but I’ll find out who they are and what everyone says right along with you.

It might not surprise you to learn that numerous people have been involved in the search for the Lost Colony over the ensuing 432 years – and not all of them ethical. Like anything else high-profile, the Lost Colony has attracted its share of bad actors along with some fantastic researchers.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what or whom to believe, so Anne, Andy and I, along with our colleagues working alongside us, committed to document and source all information independently. Our goal was and is to excavate the truth, regardless of where that truth leads.

In 2007, Anne and I founded the loosely organized, all-volunteer, Lost Colony Research Group to facilitate various types of research and coordinate archaeological excavations.

The LCRG sponsored half a dozen digs and committed to making our finds public, allowing future researchers access to our research, artifacts and DNA results when technology has improved and perhaps more is known or can be discovered. It’s the only responsible approach.

People interviewed during the filming are not actors and are not paid, nor are they afforded the opportunity to review and approve any footage or anything in the segment before it’s aired.

Other than clarifying a couple of questions after the filming and being informed of the date and time when the episode will air, we had no communications with the production crew or staff after filming.

None of us knows what the segment contains or how it will be portrayed. We don’t actually even know if we are IN the segment, just that we were filmed. The segment at the lab with Dr. Bormans took about a day and a half of filming, plus several days of preparation, as did Andy’s and Anne’s portions, respectively. Most of what is filmed winds up on the cutting room floor. That’s the nature of the beast.

I have my fingers crossed that the resulting program is scientifically sound as well as entertaining. The Lost Colony is, after all, one of America’s oldest mysteries.

One thing is for sure – I’ll be watching. I hope you do too.

If you have ancestors in the US or in the British Isles – you or your family might just have that critical piece of information needed to solve the mystery!



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44 thoughts on “In Search of the Lost Colony of Roanoke – History Channel Documentary

  1. Hi Roberta – only one problem when I tried to set up a recording. The listing is for the same title, but a program that aired in 1979, with Leonard Nimoy (deceased now) as host! Will record by channel/time anyway but thought you would like to know.

  2. How cool! I did some work for a Nat Geo video on this topic back in the 90’s and have always been curious about what happened. I’m so psyched to watch and see what DNA tells us. Thanks for the heads up!

  3. I’ve been interested in this Lost Colony of Roanoke since learning of it back in College (over 50 yrs ago). Bought a book on it in 1983 (“Roanoke Island The Beginnings of English America” by David Stick) so look forward to the lastest chapter on the subject……….Thanks and hope you & Dr. Borman’s don’t wind up on the cutting room floor!!

  4. It is listed as episode 2 and when I went to look for episode 1 at the site you posted it was not listed. Any ideas on how to get to that one?

  5. As one of the ‘other colleagues’ you refer to I was more than anxious to see this program when Anne Poole first posted about it. So I did some research and found that History Channel USA and History Channel Canada have two different schedules and it is not on the Canadian schedule. When I looked at there is a promo for “In Search Of”, but if I click on it, I am redirected to as the site recognizes my Canadian ISP. Nothing I did would let me get to “In Search Of”. I can only hope that the Canadian Channel will eventually air the program, but until then, unless someone can capture it and post it to U-Tube anyone living outside the USA will not be able to see it.

    And just to let you know, I am still working on some of the surnames on the list of Lost Colonists, predominantly BERRY, DARE & DARIGE (which I believe should be DAVIGE a variant of my maiden name). And I thoroughly enjoyed ‘digging’ with you in 2011.

    • If you use the incognito window in Chrome, that might work. It’s found in the three dots on the far right at theh top of the toolbar. Edge has private window which is the same thing. Try that.

  6. I joined the project! Maybe it could be my mtDNA, but since I don’t know any surnames far back enough yet, I am not thinking about that, but I did find possible surnames (and other evidence) on a line that’s not my maternal line. So even though atDNA evidence might have washed out, if everyone who thinks there’s even a chance he/she might have been one of the descendants will join, we’ll have more of a possibility of solving the mystery. And even though there might be a male-line descendant with a lost colony surname who can be in the Y project, I still hope that person will also join the atDNA project. Congrats Roberta! I’ll be watching!

    • That’s why there are no restrictions on joining the Family Project.. The Y I need to be focused, but I want everyone who’s interested orr thinks they might be related to join the Family Project. Welcome cousin!

  7. Hi Roberta, I am in Australia so may not have access to the documentary. What tweaked my interest is that I have a Y111 connection to SC. Cheers David Barnes

    • The area where the colonists settled was coastal NC on the border with VA. Do you know where in England your line was from before SC?

  8. Roberta, absolutely enthralling reading this article and the embedded links to other articles. I have been happily absorbed reading this on a train from Birmingham to London, UK for the whole duration. I’d vaguely heard of the Roanoke settlement but this really piqued my interest. Wish I could watch from UK. Either way, I’ll be searching for updates.

  9. Do you know if William & Susanna White of the Mayflower of 1620 were related to Roanoke’s “Governor” John White of Bristol, England?

  10. Hi Roberta. I recall you saying that you’d be in Sydney in late December. Are you still planning to come? You have an enthusiastic group of followers here. We’d enjoy meeting with you and showing you a few sites! Just let us know how it’s best to make contact with you. Cheers Chris on behalf of the SAG DNA Discussion Group.

  11. Roberta,
    Awesome article and definitely going to record this episode. I too have had a fascination with the “Lost Colony” and definitely cannot wait to see this episode.
    To mention I have Brown family lines both my Maternal and Paternal sides. I know more on my Maternal side due to that is my Mother’s maiden name and that my Mother’s Brown line migrated from North and South Carolina and possibly Virginia as well to Georgia.
    I have done my Mother’s autosomal test along with two of her nephews DNA tests too. One of the nephew’s my 1st cousin I upgraded to Y 37 DNA test. I must admit when I did this cousin he matched pretty close to my brother in the autosomal test compare to each other then the other 1st cousin did, by way both cousins are brothers. Back to my Maternal Brown side I do know that a whole lot is not known because so far I only trace back to my 3rd Great Grandfather George W Brown.
    Now on the Paternal side that is a complete mystery in itself since I just found my Dad’s biological Father and have found at least one Brown from a 4th cousin and still do not know know exactly how we connect but at least I do know that there is a Brown line there just have to connect the dots now.
    So yes I am definitely going to add both my Brother and 1st cousin’s Y DNA test to the Lost Colony group since I found out there was a Brown line there…so hopefully this will help on the Y DNA aspect. Gosh I love History and a good mystery…lol.
    Can’t wait to see the show. Again awesome article. Hope to see you on the big screen…TV screen that it.


    Cindy Carrasco

  12. I saw you in the preview version of the episode a couple minutes ago at the web site. I hope we get to see more of you in the full episode!

  13. Will be watching tonight! Was surprised when the genre tag said: Culture, Documentary, Paranormal… indication that DNA or genealogy will even be mentioned! I get the “Culture” and the “Documentary” but not the “Paranormal” tag!

  14. Ah, I think whoever is in charge of the listings messed up. The whole In Search Of series, which was originally hosted by Leonard Nimoy, is getting a reboot, and this time is hosted by Zachary Quinto – who incidentally played Spock in the newer Star Trek movies! LOL

  15. Well, now I know a whole lot more about this topic and the several mysteries surrounding it. Only 10 minutes in we got our first glimpse of Roberta (who looked and sounded great) and the first mention of DNA. One confirmed DNA link is all it will take to really get this ball rolling! And when that happens, I’ve no doubt we will hear about it on DNA-Explained!…Final thought: In the program description part of it was Genre: Culture, Documentary, Paranormal. I guess I missed the Paranormal part. Thanks for all the effort you have put in to supporting the unraveling of this mystery. I think we all look forward to the “Next Chapter”.

  16. Roberta,
    Awesome, I recorded the episode and just finished watching…loved it…definitely going to add my Brother and 1st Cousin Y DNA to the Lost Colony group through FTDNA. We have Brown ancestry that run from Virginia down to Georgia. Yes I know that my Maternal Grandfather’s Brown line comes from United Kingdom.
    Definitely could not hurt to join and find out if possible could be traced back to the Brown lines that were involved in the Lost Colony.
    Again awesome article and great episode.
    Only time can tell with DNA. Waiting to always learn more about DNA from your articles…definitely a fan for sure…can I have your autograph…lol…keep up the great work and I always learn something new from your articles.


    Cindy Carrasco

  17. Roberta, I saw the segment on The Lost Colony tonight, without having seen this edition of your blog. I was excited to see you were part and parcel to this research! I loved the way the story unfolded in the segment. The results are so promising… I can’t wait to follow your journey with this! Your 4th cousin by Nicholas Speak- Wanda Diane Cole

  18. Set DVR and watched last night. It was great to put a voice to you. I must say , I watched a show asking if you could have diner with one person , past or present who would it be? I have thought a lot about that for years. Last night it came to me: It would be Roberta Estes. I marvel in your knowledge and have benefited from your blog. Thank you.
    I found it interesting that the pronunciation of Estes is different than the way it is pronounced in Maine.

  19. I would like to help a 53 yr old woman find her birth parents. She has her birth certificate with her adoptive parents names. The only information she has is her birth location. What would be the best DNA test for her to take? FTM Cousin Finder? Not sure if a mtDNA test would be good as her mother/grd=mother may not be alive. Thanks for any suggestions

    • MtDNA is probably not the answer. She needs to take the Family Finder test at Family Tree DNA, plus test at or transfer to MyHeritage, 23andMe and Ancestry. You never know where that match will be found that will solve this puzzle. Contact for free assistance.

    • MtDNA would probably not be terribly useful. The best thing she can do is to take the Family Finder test at FTDNA, plus test at 23andMe, Ancestry and transfer to MyHeritage. That way she is fishing in all the ponds. You never know where that answer will be found.

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